Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Hold the phone! It’s quiz time!

By Alexander Humez

Phone (from Greek φωνή ‘sound [of the voice], voice, sound, tone’) shows up in English as a prefix (in, e.g., phonograph), a root form (in, e.g., phonetics), a free-standing word (phone), and as a suffix (in, e.g., gramophone) of which A. F. Brown lists well over a hundred in his monumental Normal and Reverse English Word List, though considering that -phone in the sense of “-speaker of” can be tacked onto the end of any combining root that designates a language (as in Francophone), the list of possibilities is considerably greater.

Urdang, Humez, and Zettler in their Suffixes and Other Word-Final Elements of English distinguish among four senses in which the suffix -phone is used (six for -phonic), an overloading that has occasionally resulted in polysemy, where a word has come to have multiple meanings, whether through semantic evolution (e.g., telephone, which has come some distance from its original meaning, now no longer in use), independent invention (e.g., hypophone, which was coined by two different people to mean two very different things), or different etymological histories (e.g., diaphone, in which the -phone of one has a different immediate derivation from that of the other). Follow THIS LINK for a short list of polysemic words ending in -phone, each of which is accompanied by three examples or definitions, two of which are correct and the other of which is bogus. See if you can identify the phonies.

Alexander Humez is the co-author of Short Cuts: A Guide to Oaths, Ring Tones, Ransom Notes, Famous Last Words, and Other Forms of Minimalist Communication with his brother, Nicholas Humez, and Rob Flynn. The Humez brothers also collaborated on Latin for People, Alpha to Omega, A B C Et Cetera, Zero to Lazy Eight (with Joseph Maguire), and On the Dot. To see Humez’s previous posts, click here.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *